Twins, born two minutes apart. That’s Chris and Joshua Bacon.
Fate made them different. Yet they share a bond few could comprehend.
The St. Anthony’s High School seniors from Dix Hills will announce their college choices Wednesday on National Signing Day. The twins will be joined by several other Friars, who will make commitments in football, soccer and track.
Chris Jr., the eldest, talks about what it’s like to play basketball at MSG. And his face lights up. Like so many teenagers, he’s found himself in sports.
Joshua is an accomplished athlete in his own right. He’s a kicker who hopes to someday nail the game-winning field goal in the ACC championship game.
But Chris is sitting in a wheelchair as he speaks, so the words grow weighty with every syllable. The journey takes on new meaning. Every inch forward awakens fresh pain in his shoulders and takes tread off his wheels.
These wheels have seen the miles.
“Nothing’s ever stopped him, no matter the obstacle,” Joshua said.
Chris Jr. was born with segmental spinal dysgenesis, a rare abnormality where a segment of the spine and spinal cord fails to develop properly. He underwent 15 surgeries by the fifth grade.
“We spent our whole childhood in hospitals,” said Joshua, by his brother’s side the entire way. That still holds true today.
“They look after one another all the time,” St. Anthony’s Athletic Director Don Buckley said of the brothers. “They are very committed, very focused on what they want.”
Chris never imagined he wouldn’t play sports. Sibling rivalry stoked his competitive fires.
“We’re both passionate about what we do,” Chris Jr. said. “We’re competitive against each other. No matter where we are.”
There was sled hockey first. Then Chris took up wheelchair basketball. That was four years ago. When his brother wasn’t grabbing rebounds, he was manning a spare wheelchair and battling him head-to-head.
They began their high school careers at Commack before transferring to the South Huntington parochial school as juniors.
“We’ve spent every single day of our lives together,” Joshua explained. “He’s my other half.”
Joshua, a gifted defender in club soccer, became a crossover standout in football. St. Anthony’s has developed a reputation for churning out elite kickers. After converting 18 of 20 extra points last fall Joshua hopes to be the latest as a preferred walk-on at the University of Miami.
He’s aiming high. But when your brother defies the odds every day, how can you not be inspired to expect more from yourself?
Veteran coaches aren't immune to it. Rich Reichert, the winningest football coach in Suffolk history, has a weight room full of strongmen. He sees the remarkable every day.
The image that stands out in his mind? Chris Jr. doing chin ups still strapped to his wheelchair, 20-pound weights added for good measure. The wheelchair goes airborne with every rep.
“He’s doing sets of pull ups in the wheelchair,” Reichert said. “Unbelievable. Really hard working kid with a great attitude. It’s wonderful to see.”
Limitations don’t define Chris Jr.
He started a wheelchair basketball program over the summer at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He’s a member of the New York Rollin’ Knicks, a wheelchair basketball team sponsored by the NBA franchise. He was one of the youngest players invited to try out for the under-23 national team in Colorado Springs, Colo.
And while he didn’t make the cut, Chris Jr. is a Paralympian hopeful in 2016 and beyond.
That’s why Wednesday Chris Jr. will also announce his college choice. The University of Alabama has one of top adaptive athletic programs in the nation. Chris Bacon Jr. will accept a scholarship to go there. He’ll play college basketball and study business.
“A lot of kids don’t realize how hard it is being in a wheelchair, having a disability,” Chris said. “It makes me look at life a lot better knowing I have such a great opportunity [ahead].”